A DeKalb County criminal court jury of nine women and five men was seated just before noon and began hearing evidence Monday afternoon in the trial of 34 year old Richard J. Mooney of Watertown, charged with felony murder and theft of property over $1,000 in the October, 2009 death of 63 year old Robert "Bob" Senick, whose remains were found in the rubble of his mobile home near Liberty, which had been burned to the ground.
The indictment, returned by the Grand Jury in November, 2010, alleges that on or about October 7th, 2009, Mooney killed Senick during the perpetration of theft of property and that he did obtain or exercise control over property, to wit: cash and drugs with a value of over $1,000, being the property of Senick.
The charges against Mooney came as the result of an investigation by the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Department of Bomb and Arson, and District Attorney General Randy York and members of his staff.
Sheriff Patrick Ray told WJLE that Mooney is believed to have gone to the Senick home sometime either Tuesday night, October 6th or Wednesday morning, October 7th, 2009; shot Senick in the head; committed the theft; and then set fire to the mobile home.
The mobile home, which belonged to Senick, was located in an isolated area about a mile off the Liberty to Dismal Road.
According to Sheriff Ray, the mobile home had already burned to the ground by the time it was discovered and reported Wednesday morning, October 7th, 2009 at around 9:13 a.m.
Senick's body was later sent to the State Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy. Dental records confirmed the identity of Senick, whose body was burned beyond recognition during the fire. The autopsy also confirmed that Senick had a gunshot wound to the head.
WJLE was the only news source covering the trial Monday. The following is a summary of the opening statements by the lawyers and the witness testimony so far. State prosecutors in this case are Deputy District Attorney General Gary McKenzie and Assistant D.A. Greg Strong. Mooney's attorney is Joshua Crain of Murfreesboro. The presiding judge is Leon Burns, Jr.
In his opening remarks to the jury, Assistant D.A. Strong said the state would present evidence that Mooney shot and killed Senick and that his home was burned down afterwards; that during the planning of the robbery of Senick, Mooney sought help from another man (Scotty Frankin) but that Franklin refused to participate in the crime; that the day after the murder, Mooney bought an automobile for $1,200 in cash at a car lot in Rutherford County; that DNA testing confirmed blood smears linked to Mooney were found on the exterior of Senick's car, on canopy poles supporting the awning covering Senick's car, and on a knife found on the hood of Senick's car at the crime scene; and that a few days after the murder, Mooney tried to sell a 9 millimeter pistol. Strong told the jury that there was but "one conclusion you can draw from this and that is Mooney killed Senick to rob him of pills and money".
Crain, Mooney's attorney, urged the jury to keep an open mind and open ears, to listen to all the evidence presented, and not "presume" Mooney guilty because he said the state's case is based upon "presumptions". Crain said the jury would not be able to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt that Mooney killed Senick.
The state's first witness was Scotty Franklin of Carthage, a prisoner now serving a twenty year sentence for drug and theft offenses, who had given a statement to TBI agent Billy Miller during the murder investigation, saying that prior to his incarceration and before Senick's death, Mooney had tried to enlist his help in carrying out a plan to rob Senick. Agent Miller had handwritten the statement and Franklin had signed it. But during his testimony Monday, Franklin said he couldn't remember implicating Mooney in the statement to agent Miller nor could he recount the conversation he allegedly had with Mooney about robbing Senick. Franklin also indicated that he was concerned about being labeled a snitch if he testified against Mooney, saying at one point that "if you snitch in prison you'll be dealt with."
James Frazier of Liberty, the first to discover Senick's burned down trailer home, testified that he had picked up a female friend the morning of October 7, 2009 who wanted him to take her to Senick's home to get some pills. But after they arrived and discovered there had been a fire, Frazier said he took her back home and then notified Jerry Wayne Johnson of the fire. Johnson is station commander of the Liberty station of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department.
Johnson testified that after being contacted by Frazier, he drove to the scene, saw that the trailer had burned down, and called 911. Johnson said a car was setting in the driveway near the home and he noticed a hunting knife on the hood. Johnson said a fire department captain soon arrived at the scene and a barricade was erected until law enforcement officers arrived.
Dr. Feng Li, a pathologist testifying for the state medical examiner's office, said that Senick's autopsy revealed that he died of a single gunshot wound to the head. The shot entered on the right side of the head behind the ear and exited on the left side of the cheek bone. Dr. Li said the nature of the wounds indicated that the weapon was probably a handgun, but he could not rule out the possibility that it may have been a rifle or some other long gun. Neither the murder weapon nor the projectile fired from the gun had been recovered. While it was the gunshot that killed Senick, Dr. Li testified that the fire, which was set after the shooting, charred Senick's entire body and that dental comparisons were required to make a positive identification.
Greg Whitaker of the Tennessee Bomb and Arson unit testified that the fire started in the south end of the Senick residence and that all reasonable sources, such as it possibly having started from weather or an electrical problem were ruled out. He said the fire appeared to have been incendiary, induced by a human. Whitaker said that while a K-9 was called to the scene, the dog did not indicate the presence of an accelerent, which often times is used to start a fire, but not always.
TBI agent Billy Miller said swipes of red brownish stains, believed to be human blood were found on two of the poles supporting the canopy or awning covering Senick's 1986 Lincoln Towncar which was parked in the driveway near the burned down trailer home. A hunting knife, inside a sheath, was setting on the hood of Senick's car. Stains, also believed to be human blood were found on the knife and the exterior of the car. Agent Miller said the poles, car, and knife were sent to the TBI Crime lab for testing.
Agent Miller testified that during the course of the investigation, he learned that Scotty Franklin, a prisoner, had some information about the case and was willing to give a statement. Miller said he met with Franklin on December 1, 2009 and took a statement from him. Prior to his incarceration, Franklin apparently had been approached by Mooney about helping him rob Senick. Agent Miller said Franklin did not appear to be under the influence of any drug or intoxicant while giving the statement.
After identifying Mooney as a suspect, Agent Miller said he met with him on November 12, 2009. When questioned about the killing, Mooney told Miller that he would not admit to anything, saying that he lived by the code not to talk to the police. According to Agent Miller, Mooney said it had been at least a month or more prior to Senick's death since he had been to Senick's home.
Almost ten months later Agent Miller obtained a search warrant to collect a DNA sample from Mooney. Miller met with Mooney on September 2, 2010 and asked him to give a sample voluntarily. Agent Miller testified that Mooney initially refused. But when Miller told Mooney that he had already obtained a search warrant and that a DNA sample could be taken involuntarily, Mooney agreed to a Buccal Swab, in which the inside of the mouth is gently rubbed with a cotton swab to collect cells for DNA testing.
When the trial resumes Tuesday morning, Agent Miller will be back on the witness stand with Mooney's attorney having his turn at asking questions.
The state still has several more witnesses to call. After the state rests, Mooney's attorney can then put on his defense. The trial is expected to go through Wednesday.
If convicted as charged, Mooney could be facing a life prison sentence.